Friday, December 31, 2010

Wet, soggy mess

You may have noticed less than usual blog posts from me this past week. I've been sick (I'll post about this in a future post), and just as I was no longer contagious, I spent a few days visiting my parents and siblings in the Chicago area. While I like to believe I hold my own in the country, it is true that many of my growing up years I lived in the suburbs of Chicago (I moved there when I was 11 years old, and only left when I went to college, that's what brought me to Michigan). Every time we make this trip, I'm reminded in another way how country my kids are. This trip it was a comment by Zack: we were going out for lunch and Zack said "oh, are we going to town?" People in the suburbs don't talk that way :) It's a good cultural experience for my kids, given this is the only place they have lived, it's good sometimes to get off the farm.

We woke up this morning to the sound of rain, lots of heavy rain. I knew if it was raining in Chicago, that rain was headed to our home in Michigan. When I called home to check on how J and the farm were fairing, J reported that most of the snow was gone from all the rain that had fallen here.

I know not too many people unpack their car after a trip and then rush out to scoop alpaca poop, but that is exactly what I did. I came home to a terrible wet mess of fog, mud and huge poop piles. The girls were also waiting their grain feeding:

In the distance the fog was setting over the pastures:

Twilight as a wet mess:

and Challenger was quite the wet mess too:

My usual routine with cleaning the pastures of alpaca poop is to scoop the girl's poop daily. I find if I do it everyday, then it's about 3/4 of a wheel barrow full. If I wait 2 days or more, then I have to make more than one trip with the wheel barrow. I prefer one trip, a quick chore each day. However, in the winter, when it's below freezing, often much of the poop is frozen to the ground. In years past I would dig it up, scrap it up, spending lots of time hacking away at the frozen pieces. Last year I decided that was a waste of time, and instead only scooped up what wasn't stuck and frozen. It did mean that when a thaw came, I would be really busy with all the piles that finally unfroze. But, overall this method seemed to work best. So, here I was, just home from a trip with thawed out poop piles in a muddy foggy pasture.

I ended up cleaning out 4 wheelbarrow's full of alpaca poop:

It was a wet muddy mess. But the temperatures are supposed to fall again and freezing temps will be here soon. I didn't want all these piles to re-freeze, I wanted to scoop them up quick while I still could.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Tucker's Fiber

One of our favorite males, Our Peruvian Tucker:

Last week I spun up the last of Tucker's fiber. Tucker was not on our farm for most of 2010, including shearing time, so we did not have any of his 2010 fiber. (He was at a farm in Ohio, we swapped males for almost a year). I was still working through his 2009 blanket. I love Tucker's fiber. It's a wonderful light silver grey color. It has a nice crimp that I find easy to spin. And his fiber does not hold onto debri like some of our animals blankets do.

Spinning yarn:

Two strands ready for plying:

Washing yarn:

Ball of yarn:

Knitting in process:

I am sad to be out of Tucker's blanket fiber. It makes me eager for our 2011 shearing, just to get more. In the mean time, I have plenty of other blankets to work through.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Infant Hat

J knit up this cute infant hat.

It is made out of yarn I spun up from Tehya's fiber.

Raw fiber:

I love how Tehya's fading fawn color creates a variated yarn (pictures do not do justice the true variation in color, this is something that is best seen in person).

Remember a few posts back I spoke about plying the remaining of one strand of Tehya's yarn with a left over strand from Cafe - that multi-color plyed yarn is what made the accent yarn for this hat.

I love having the multi-color two plyed yarn! I think it really makes a knit product pop. I've started purposely making one longer strand so that I have them around to ply with a different color.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas!!

I hope everyone is having a very merry day.

While I have been busy with Christmas chaos at our house, I always find some down time once everyone is settled into using (playing with) their new presents. Ahh the quiet after the chaos.

I thought I'd put up pictures of many of the alpaca product presents we have given away this year. I took these pictures after we already gave away one of the presents, and before the last two scarves were made. It's really hard to capture the knit products in a picture. To get their true beauty, one must see and touch and feel these items. But, since this is on-line, pictures are the best I can do.

Here is the array of scarves in various colors and styles. The colors include rose grey, fawn, black, another rose grey, and fading fawn

First is a rose grey male muffler, made out of fiber from our own Greyt Exxpectations. This scarf pattern is wider and shorter, giving it a more masculine look.

The next one was made from fiber off of Cafe, who is no longer on our farm, but resides on a farm nearby.

Rosco provided the true black fiber for the lush black scarf. It's hard to see in the picture that the scarf is a very lacy pattern.

The rose grey scarf also came from fiber off of Greyt Exxpectations.

The last one was made from fiber off of Tehya. Tehya is a beautiful fading fawn, which spins into a wonderful variated yarn.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Last Minute

I am not generally a last minute kind of person. I usually get too stressed out by the pressure, and prefer to have things done ahead of time. But it seems when I am processing alpaca fiber, it takes longer than I anticipate, so I am often pushing deadlines when it comes to alpaca projects. Here it is the day before Christmas and I am still processing fiber.

Here is some of Greyt's fiber that I'm spinning:

J is working on knitting a scarf out of Tucker's fiber (he had to wait for me to finish the yarn):

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Alpacas in the Snow

It must be very warm under that alpaca fiber, because they don't seem to mind the winter weather. They lay out there, letting snow accumluate on their backs. They walk around with the snow stuck on them.



Spot doesn't mind the winter weather either:

And actually, I don't mind the winter either. Once I'm bundled up (I don't have a warm alpaca coat), I enjoy being active out there.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

My Helper

Zack has been my halter training buddy. I couldn't do it without him. Walking an alpaca on the led only takes one person, but haltering up the cria is what is the problem. Zack and I herd them into the pen. Then we get ahold of them, usually Zack holds them while I put the halter on them. We take turns walking with them.

We've had our share of adventures. There have been two incidents where Zack was walking a cria on the led and accidentally let go of the led. That results in a cria running around the pasture with a halter and led dangling. While I'm sure our chasing the cria from that point is quite comical, at the time it can be frustrating. There have been other times I can't find Zack, only to discover him eating snow:

Zack loves winter, loves the snow, and loves to be a good helper.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Haltering in pairs

Since I was seeing progress with halter training Copper by using Chaska as his led, I decided to do with with the younger ones too. I had read that it works even better if you use the cria's dam (their mom). I am leery to use a dam who is pregnant, given they tend to be a bit crabby and some of ours turn into spitters. They are fine if you stay at a distance, but haltering them up is enough to make some of then quite ornery. I'd rather avoid spit, whenever possible. It just so happens that both Ginger's mom, Latte, and Twilight's mom, Maddie, are open. So this weekend when halter training, I linked them up with their moms.

Here is Ginger linked to her dam, Latte:

Ginger was not happy, and was pulling all sorts of funny faces:

They will act like that if the halter does not fit right. They breath through their nose, not their mouth, and if the halter pinches off their air passage, they could stop breathing. It is essential that halters fit right. I know in the beginning we were putting the halter on wrong. We tried to put both the nose part and the strap around the head on tight. One time at a show a fellow alpaca farmer showed up some tricks. A big thing is that the nose area should be open very wide, so the bridge of the halter fits far enough back not to block the airway. We had it back pretty far, but the trick is that it should be even wider then what you think it should be. Then, the part of the halter that goes around their head needs to be very snug. J tends to put them on much more snug than I do. He's convinced his way is better, and I have never had a problem with my way (I think his are so tight I can't get them on or off). Like many things, we work this out by my letting him put the halter on when he's there, and when it's just me or me and Zack, I put it on my way.

I double checked Ginger's halter to make sure it wasn't cutting off her breathing. It was fine. She just didn't like it on. Ginger is doing ok on the led. She's younger than any I've ever trained (I've never gotten organized enough to do it so early on), so I'm impressed with anything she does. And actually, it's easier to train them at this age than when they are older and stronger. I do find it funny that walking away from the herd the young ones will buck and pull and resist, but when walked back, they prance and almost run.

After I walked across the pasture and back with Ginger and Latte, I let Ginger go, and we got Challenger on the led with Latte. Challenger's mom, Victoria, is bred and I didn't want to get her mad by haltering her (though she's very low key and likely wouldn't have minded). In retrospect I should have, because Challenger would do nothing for Latte. She eventually cushed down she was so sick of his behavior. Challenger is one who likes lay on his back and be completely limp, like dead weight. He was completely uncooperative. I remember his brother, Cavalier, was exactly the same way. Eventually I got him trained. It's going to take some time though. We didn't get any pictures of his training because we were both busy with him. I had the led and was managing directing that. Zack was on *clapping duty*, this is where you stand behind the cria and clap, which often gets them to take a step (I'm sure this is not an official method, but we've found it to work when nothing else seems to).

After Challenger, we decided to halter up Maddie and her cria, Twilight. These two did great together. I still love how this mom and daughter look together, Twilight is a mini-Maddie:

This picture makes it look like we were out in really bad weather (it wasn't):

At this point in halter training, both Chaska and Twilight are doing great. I'd take them somewhere and feel confident they would walk for me. I'd like to tweak their skills before having them in an alpaca show, but we are close to being where I want them to be. Ginger is doing pretty good, and actually given her age, she can't go to the our first spring show, so she has time yet. Copper needs some work yet, and Challenger needs a lot of work yet. But I am happy to say that our halter training schedule is working, and that I am way ahead of where I have been any other year.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Haltering progress

Zack and I have been busy halter training our 2010 cria. Our goal was to alternate days, one day training the young boys at the boy's barn, the next day training the younger ones still with their moms, and then a day off only to start the rotation again. I'm happy to say that we have done a great job with making time for halter training. They each have been getting at least two sessions a week.

Up at the young boys barn, Chaska is my star pupil. He is doing great on the led. I would be fine taking him to the vet, knowing he would walk where I need him to. He needs a bit of fine tuning before being ready for a show, but he's well on his way.

I love this picture Zack got of Chaska, haltered up:

Copper, on the other hand, is having a bit more trouble with halter training. He prefers to pull back on the led, and at times will walk on his knees to avoid actually walking with me.

We had read about, and in the past tried, haltering an animal who knows how to walk on the led with one who does not. They will follow the led of the one who is doing it right. We've tried this before with success. Up at the young boys barn I had the choice to halter up Cavalier to assist with Copper, or use Chaska. While Chaska isn't completely trained, we already had him haltered anyway, so it made the most sense to use him. Cavalier is already trained and I wouldn't halter him except to use as a training model. Cavalier was our back-up plan, but I never had to use him.

I alternated between having the two boys connected to each other, and walking them on led next to each other. Here they are next to each other:

This is the second session we did with Copper where I had him training with Chaska's led. I am very happy to say that Copper is making good progress. This method appears to be working quite well. Copper is taking a few steps when I walk, which is more than he was doing a week ago. We still have a long ways to go with Copper, but each time I feel like he's getting better.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Weekend's fiber project

This weekend my project was processing Tucker's fiber. It occurred to me that I really should have put off halter training until after the holidays. While I'm glad we've been good about getting out there to halter train several days a week, I really should have spent that time spinning yarn and making products for Christmas presents. Next year I'll start halter training after Christmas. It won't make a difference to start a couple weeks later (I've waited much longer before and every one was trained by show season). But, it would be really nice to have that time these weeks heading up to the holidays to get all the last minute stuff done. I'm not good at procrastination, so last minute stuff always stresses me out. Not that it's last minute stuff yet, but being I'm not good at procrastinating, it feels last minute to me to be spinning yarn yet for this holiday season's gift.

Spinning Tucker's fiber:

A strand on the bobbin:

I love how the grey color of Tucker's fiber is a mix of black and white. It makes such a pretty yarn.

I managed to get two strands spun throughout the weekend.

I skirted and tumbled two batches of Tucker's fiber on Friday evening. On Saturday I flicked up a batch and spun up one strand. Sunday I flicked up the second batch and spun that into a strand. It has to set at least over night before it can be plyed, so that part had to wait. I am sort of tempted to ply it in the evening, since I finished the second strand early Sunday afternoon (a few hours should be enough time to set), but I have other things I can work on, it can wait. Some evening this week I will ply these two strands together, put it into a skein, wash it, and hang it to dry. A couple days later, once it's completely dry, then I can put it into a ball of yarn. By mid-week it will be ready to for knitting, a perfect portable project I can take with me to one of our holiday gatherings.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

One Week

That's right, in one week it will be Christmas Day!

I still have some alpaca products that I want to make for Christmas presents. This means the push is on to get them done. I am not one to procrastinate, so this already feels too much "last minute" to me. I'm sure they will all be done in time, but I hate having it still to do.

Last weekend and throughout this week I completed a double skein of Tehya's fiber. It took a lot longer because I did a double one. But we needed that much yarn to complete our projects.

Here is Tehya:

Her fiber all flicked and ready to spin:

One strand completed:

When I plyed it, I had one strand that was longer than the other. While this can be annoying, I use it for good. I had one strand of a darker brown already waiting for this exact scenario. I made a small skein of the two color ply, a perfect accent yarn for a project:

Right now I am working on spinning up a skein from Tucker's fiber, another project in the works.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Colorful Hats!

While I have chosen not to attempt dying our alpaca fiber, my husband, J, dyed three hats that he knit up:

I think they turned out really nice. Though it's hard to get a picture to capture the true color.




He made these as a special order for someone. I hope they like them.
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